9 of the Worst Broadway Musicals of All Time
Everyone remembers the best Broadway musicals, but what about the worst of them? Some plays are true clunkers that closed after only a few performances, while others managed to eek out a respectable run before being forgotten by fans and critics. The following Broadway musicals are the worst of the worst, based on critical reception and how long they lasted before bringing down the final curtain.
Carrie made author Stephen King famous, and the film adaptation remains a classic of ’70s horror. But the 1988 musical adaptation died a short death on Broadway, closing after just five performances. Like a zombie, Carrie came back to life in 2012 as a significantly revised off-Broadway play. Like its predecessor, the new version of the musical was dismissed by critics, who said the improvements couldn’t save the play from itself. This play is still regarded by critics as one of the worst of modern Broadway history.
Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (2011)
What do you get when you combine the rock ‘n’ roll talents of Bono from U2, the artistic vision of director Julie Taymor, and the pop-culture appeal of a comic book character like Spider-Man? A hot mess, according to critics. Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark was plagued by disasters from the start. Actors were injured during rehearsal, the script was rewritten endlessly, and Taymor herself was fired during previews in March. The show opened on June 14, 2011, and ran for three years. It closed in 2014, having failed to recoup its $75 million investment, making it the most expensive Broadway play of its time and one of the biggest financial flops.
Dr. Zhivago (2015)
Boris Pasternak’s 1957 novel about the Russian Revolution won a Nobel Prize for literature, and the film was a box-office smash when it premiered in 1965. The Broadway musical, on the other hand, was a huge flop. It closed after just 23 performances. Reviewers complained that the music overwhelmed the lyrics, while the actors were upstaged by a gaudy set design and distracting videos.
TV personality Kathie Lee Gifford can be blamed for this Broadway bomb about the life of Aimee Semple McPherson, an evangelical preacher who was popular in the 1920s and ’30s. Gifford wrote the book and the lyrics, as well as some of the music for the play, which critics savaged as musically bland and dramatically dull. The play closed on Broadway after fewer than 30 performances.
Composer Frank Wildhorn can’t get a break. He wrote the music for Dracula, the Musical, a true Broadway bomb, The Civil War, and Jekyll & Hyde, which ran for four years despite harsh reviews. Wildhorn’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, met no kinder fate from reviewers. The show closed after 33 performances.
Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles made bloodsuckers cool again, so it seemed like a slam dunk to hire Elton John and Bernie Taupin to write the music and lyrics for a Broadway version of Rice’s work. But like other vampire-themed plays that bombed (Dance of the Vampires in 1997 and Dracula, the Musical in 2004), critics panned Lestat. Uninspiring music, insipid lyrics, and a nonsensical storyline contributed to the play dying an unnatural death after just 39 performances.
King Kong ( 2021)
The overwhelming question with the debut of King Kong was a resounding “why?” Nothing about the famous monster film cries out to be musicalized, and the resulting attempt was filled with two-dimensional characters and music, alongside a giant Kong puppet (a technological feat, to be sure, but one that infamously malfunctioned often). The show managed to last nearly a year on Broadway, but often at steep losses and with terrible reviews.
Escape to Margaritaville ( 2021)
Jukebox musicals have never been duller (or dumber) than this: a thin boy-meets-girl story about a slacker bartender and a career woman, set to Jimmy Buffett’s greatest hits. Critics panned the show as insipid and insufferable, particularly the second act, which sends the plot completely off the rails. It closed after less than four months on Broadway.
Baby, It’s You (2011)
From time to time, Broadway trots out a “jukebox” musical that is little more than a greatest-hits review of popular songs supported by a slender narrative. When it works, (think Dreamgirls), the result is a musical trip down memory lane. Baby, It’s You, loosely based on the lives of The Shirelles and their promoter, did not work. Critics called the music insipid and complained that the plot often did not make sense. The show closed after fewer than 150 performances.
Other Broadway Bombs
Bad musicals tend to disappear, and perhaps rightly so. Thus, opportunities to actually see the big flops of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s are rare indeed. Shows like “Kelly,” “Home Sweet Homer,” and “Flahooley” have all but vanished, although the last of these did receive a fascinating cast recording.
Other shows that live on in Broadway infamy include the 1983 mystery spoof “The Moose Murders”, the 2004 adaptation of the bestseller “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” and the 2015 flop “Amazing Grace.” The former two of these plays rang down the curtain after a single show; the third at least managed a couple of months. Other musicals managed respectable Broadways runs, but were critical duds, including “Mamma Mia,” (1999), which is one of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history.